Friday, May 27, 2011

Not only 'dry' early, but 'bone dry'


Colorado was not only one of the first states in the nation to go dry at midnight in 1916, it went “Bone Dry” with passage of tighter alcohol restrictions in 1919, as other states belatedly joined the fray.

“New Year’s Eve, 1915 marked the end of an era in Colorado,” wrote Tom I. Romero, II, in a historical perspective for the Colorado Bar Association. “At midnight 1916, Colorado became one the first states in the nation to go dry.”

“Mourning not only the ready availability of fine spirits, but the closing of the western saloon as a central community institution, patrons of Denver’s Heidelberg Café sang ‘Last Night was the End of the World,’ as barkeepers tapped their last glasses on December 31, 1915. ”

The so-called “Bone Dry Act,” Chap. 141, Sess. Laws of 1919 had been voted on by the state’s voters and passed the previous November.

But not everyone was happy about it, even in Colorado Springs, which had been a “dry town” for years.

“This state has passed a prohibition law which is illustrative of the way that we are apt to tackle a problem in this country, namely, through a policy fanaticism,” wrote an unnamed Colorado Springs letter-writer to the editor of the New York Times on Jan. 12, 1916. “I think any fair-minded person familiar with the conditions of the mining camps of this State and the senseless abuse in the use of alcohol would agree that something should be done to ameliorate these wretched conditions. Likewise, in Denver, there is no question that a great many crimes and an enormous amount of misery were directly traceable to cheap whiskey.

But instead of endeavoring to remedy these ills by some sane method, like the Gothenburg system, which has been tried with so much success in the Scandinavian countries and parts of England, the problem has resulted in an uncompromising struggle to the death between what the newspapers call ‘the liquor interests’ and the teetotalers. After a fight of many years the latter have had a complete and overwhelming victory, with the result that it is now against the law to buy, sell, or give away anything that can be eaten or drunk that contains alcohol. It is just as illegal to sell a piece of mince pie as it is to sell a drink of whiskey – flavoring extracts are just as much taboo. A newspaper which contains any advertisements for wines, beers or any alcoholic beverages cannot be sold on any newsstand in the State. As a doctor can only give a prescription for a maximum of four ounces of anything alcoholic that can be consumed as a beverage, it would need two separate doctor’s prescriptions to enable a person to get sufficient alcohol for a rub.

I suppose the particularly grotesque feature of this law will be softened by judicial decisions in the near future, but even so, the effect on the community generally will be to put almost everyone in the category of the lawbreaker, with the result that the law will be held in contempt,” said the letter appearing in the Jan. 23, 1916 edition of the New York Times.

And held in contempt it was.

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Prohibition bust

Harry Mellon Rhoads, photographer, photo taken before 1920

People watch men open cases of liquor from the Blue Valley Distillery Company in Colorado. The men use crowbars to open the wooden cases. The Harry M. Rhoads Photograph Collection. Western History, Denver Public Library.

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